Archive for June, 2009

A Few Quick Notes

Posted in Alexi Murdoch, Michael Jackson, R.E.M. on June 29, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Just a few quick notes to wrap up the weekend and start the new week off right.

***Last week, my mother-in-law gave us her old record player and a decent collection of old vinyl. I hooked the record player up to my wife’s stereo system on Saturday and spent a good part of the weekend listening to old Beatles and Springsteen albums the way they were originally released. The sound was warm, and fuzzy, and real… a sound I haven’t heard in a long time.

I grew up in the 80’s with cassette tapes and CD’s, but I did have a record player when I was a kid. Of course… the only records I owned as a child consisted of The Pink Panther singing punk songs, Cookie Monster singing disco tunes, and The Smurfs just being generally smurfarific. I can’t tell you how great it was on Saturday to spin R.E.M.’s Document on an actual turntable. I can’t wait to fill out my R.E.M. vinyl collection.

R.E.M.: Welcome to the Occupation (Buy Album)

***Sunday afternoon, my wife and I went to see a matinee showing of Away We Go with John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. We both enjoyed the film immensely and found it to be quite funny with a great deal of heart. I don’t want to give anything away about the movie, but I will say it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I recommend it if you can find it at a theatre near you.

The reason I’m writing about it here is the stellar soundtrack featuring singer/songwriter Alexi Murdoch. Songs from Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and The Velvet Underground were used in various scenes in the movie (and appear on the soundtrack), but the most pivotal moments were accented by original tunes from Murdoch. His hushed vocals and gentle melodies really added to the film.

Alexi Murdoch: All My Days (Buy Album)

***Finally, I feel obliged to add my contribution to the ongoing Michael Jackson tributes that have consumed the blog world since Thursday afternoon.

The first “real” album that I ever owned (outside of The Smurfs) was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I won a cassette copy at the faculty Christmas party at the high school where my parents worked. I still remember getting excited when I saw the tape as one of the possible prizes for the faculty raffle, and being absolutely thrilled when my parents allowed me to pick the prize for them when their number was called.

The choice was easy, and I wore that tape out. I loved every second, and learned every word of every song on it. I was five years old.

My favorite song was “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” I’ve probably listened to it fifteen times this weekend.

Michael Jackson: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ (Buy Album)

A Little Knox Music: Black Lillies on Tennessee Shines

Posted in Knoxville Music, Tennessee Shines, The Black Lillies on June 23, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Back again with another installment of “A Little Knox Music” …a brief look at new local music here in Knoxville. Today, we’ll focus on Cruz Contreras’ new project, The Black Lillies.

First, however, is an even briefer look at the artists the Black Lillies will share the stage with during Wednesday’s installment of Tennessee Shines.

Of course… our venerable host Jim Lauderdale will lead the festivities, as he does every month. And, as usual, Lauderdale will be joined by a strong collection of talent representing all corners of the Americana genre.

First up are The Grasscals… one of the hottest acts on the bluegrass scene today and winners of multiple Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music Association (SPBGMA) Awards. Songwriter Steve Forbert will also be there to share selections from his new album The Place and the Time. Forbert’s songwriting chops are so strong that he was hailed as “The Next Dylan” when his career started in the late ’70s. Rounding out the bill is veteran songwriter Chip Taylor (“Wild Thing,” “Angel of the Morning”) and his new collaborator Kendel Carson. It’s possibly one of the strongest Tennessee Shines Lineups so far.

The fourth act of the night is The Black Lillies, a recent addition to the Knoxville music scene, but one that is made up of several familiar faces. In addition to the aforementioned vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Cruz Contreras (Robinella & the C.C. String Band), the Black Lilles are composed of vocalist Leah Gardner, drummer Jamie Cook, steel player Tom Pryor, and bassist Jeff Woods…. all veterans of the Knoxville music scene.

Musically, the Black Lillies draw influence from several styles of American roots music including folk, bluegrass, and blues… even rock and roll. The electric blues/rock of “There’s Only One” stands side by side on the debut album Whiskey Angel with the country weeper “Goodbye Mama Blues” and the string band sound of the title track. Woods told the local independent newspaper, The Metro Pulse, that the album “touches on everything that Americana is. I don’t think there’s a lot left out as far as the canons of what popular music’s been for the last 50 years.”

I’d be hard pressed to describe the album any better than that.

I’ll leave you with a couple of tracks from Whiskey Angel that highlight the wide range of influences that can be found on the album. You can hear the Black Lillies perform on Tennessee Shines beginning Wednesday night at 7:00 on WDVX. The whole show will be broadcast live from Knoxville’s historic Bijou Theatre.

The Black Lillies: Whiskey Angel (Buy Album)
The Black Lillies: There’s Only One (Buy Album)

Forgotten Favorites: Richard Buckner

Posted in Richard Buckner on June 22, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

After reading this post earlier today over at Pretty Goes with Pretty, I began to realize how truly unorganized my iTunes library really is. I have a few playlists here and there, but there’s no true organization other than a few lists my wife made for her iPod. It’s really just 16,000+ songs all floating around in a massive mess of music that I have no hope of taming.

It’s understandable then that some songs and artists get lost in the shuffle from time to time.

That’s why one of my favorite things to do is just put my entire iPod on shuffle and just see what comes up. Often that will lead to me rediscovering songs and artists that I tend to overlook when I’m actively searching for something to listen to.

Which brings me to Richard Buckner.

This weekend, I was doing the random iPod thing when Buckner’s “Rainsquall” popped up in the rotation and prompted me to go back an revisit some more of his catalogue. I put my (incomplete) Buckner collection on random (1995’s Bloomed, 1997’s Devotion & Doubt, and 2004’s Dents & Shells) and soaked up the plaintive growl of his voice.

I’ve always enjoyed Buckner’s music, but I still find myself mostly unfamiliar with a good deal of his work. Of course, that’s one of the dangers of having such an expansive music collection. It’s hard to keep up with, and fully delve into, all the music you want. Things get forgotten.

Today I’m posting some tunes from Richard Buckner (one from each album listed above) that I don’t want to forget again. This three songs also show a nice range of Buckner’s sound with the sparseness of “Lil Wallet Picture,” the lushness of “Her,” and the raw emotion of “Rainsquall.” Enjoy.

Richard Buckner: Rainsquall (Buy Album)
Richard Buckner: Lil Wallet Picture (Buy Album)
Richard Buckner: Her (Buy Album)

Bombadil: Tarpits & Canyonlands

Posted in Bombadil on June 16, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Tom Bombadil is a creation of J.R.R. Tolkien who appears in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first chapter of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is described as powerful and ancient creature who speaks in whimsical, nonsensical rhymes… his carefree nature serving as a counterpoint to the power he possesses.

In a way… the Durham, NC based band that shares Bombadil’s name also carries many of his characteristics.

On first listen, many of the songs on Bombadil’s new album Tarpits & Canyonlands seem to simply be exercises in lighthearted, sing-along fun. Dig a little deeper, however, and you begin to recognize the inventiveness and skill that goes into creating songs as layered, complex, and instantly infectious as the ones on this album.

I largely missed out on Bombadil’s previous album so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I pushed play on this one for the first time. The beautiful, slow building “I Am” had me immediately hooked with its simple, in the round, structure that adds layers as the song progresses until reaching a vocal crescendo and falling silent. It’s as epic as a song can be in only 1:32.

The opener is followed by the piano and hand clap driven “Sad Birthday” and the string filled “Honeymoon” …two songs that inspire you to smile and tap your toes while tackling slightly dark subject matter. Three songs into the album, and it’s already one of my favorites of the year. It doesn’t really let down from here either.

Tarpits & Canyonlands comes out July 7th from Ramseur Records and comes with a strong recommendation from me. If you like the two songs I’m featuring here (the first two on the album), then you should seriously consider checking this one out in a few weeks. According to my iTunes, I’ve already spun the whole record over a half-dozen times in just over a week (with a few songs getting many, many more plays), and I’m still finding new things to love about it.

Bombadil: I Am (Buy Album)
Bombadil: Sad Birthday (Buy Album)

Kasey Anderson: Way Out West

Posted in Kasey Anderson on June 11, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

A few years back, I was a constant reader and infrequent poster on the message boards at AltCountryTab… a site dedicated to the discussion of alternative country music (…and a lot of drooling over Paul Westerberg). Several of the posters were musicians themselves and would occasionally post some of their original works and a few cover tracks. Most of them were just doing it for fun or as some sort of virtual jam session with others on the boards. I never really paid much attention to the music that was posted and mainly just focused on the discussions.

I did take notice of one artist, however, who actually seemed to be a little more serious about his music and was attempting to make a career of it. Still… for some reason… I never got around to listening to his music. Not sure why… I just didn’t.

But when I got an email recently asking me to review a new collection of covers from Kasey Anderson, the name instantly registered in my head. I figured it was time to give him a shot. When I first listened to Way Out West, what I heard was a diverse collection of source materials that somehow found a common ground through Anderson’s sound and voice. Songs originally recorded by artists from all over the musical map all sound right at home on this album. The Arcade Fire’s “Keep the Car Running” stands side by side with Keith Urban’s “Days Go By” and Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live is to Fly.”

The unifying element on these tracks is Anderson’s slightly distorted vocals and fuzzy guitars that give the whole thing a decidedly lo-fi, indie sound. In fact, Anderson recorded the whole thing at home, by himself, on his laptop in just a week’s time.

Anderson says Way Out West was mostly an attempt to pay tribute to some of his influences and give his fans something to tide them over until he can put out some original material later this year. What he gave us was some fresh takes on ten old favorites. He also gave me a reason to go back and check out some of those tunes I neglected during my days at AltCountryTab. Maybe you’ll do the same.

Here’s Kasey Anderson’s take on The Arcade Fire’s “Keep the Car Running.”

Kasey Anderson: Keep the Car Running (Buy Album)

To My Hometown

Posted in Knoxville Music, Scott Miller, V-Roys on June 10, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

In honor of my hometown of Paintsville, Ky… a town that voted yesterday to allow the sale of alcohol inside the city limits after decades of being “dry”… I give you The V-Roys.

V-Roys: Cold Beer Hello (Buy Album)

Notes… and Stuff I’ve Been Meaning to Get to for a While

Posted in Back Porch Mary, Bonnaroo, Dave Matthews Band, The John Henrys, WDVX, X on June 9, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

*** First of all… Thanks to everyone who responded to my post asking for opinions on the new Dave Matthews Band album. I’ll probably end up picking up a copy of the album later this week. The post was deleted by Blogger yesterday due to copyright infractions even though I only posted a live track from a band that encourages fans to record their live shows and trade the recordings with others. A similar thing happened last week over at I Am Fuel, You Are Friends regarding a post about Pearl Jam.

***Bonnaroo is taking place this week in Manchester, TN and you can catch some of the festivities live on WDVX Saturday. We’ll broadcast a special edition of Tennessee Shines live from “The Other Tent” for eight hours from Noon to 8:00 live on WDVX and wdvx.com with a special simulcast on Nashville’s legendary WSM. The featured acts will be The Steeldrivers, Cherryholmes, The Tony Rice Unit, The Del McCoury Band, and The David Grisman Quintet. Of course, Jim Lauderdale will be there as well… bringing the Bluegrass to Bonnaroo.

***Legendary L.A. punksters X are playing Knoxville’s Bijou Theater on Wednesday night. As part of the current tour, the band is letting the fans vote on which songs they want to hear at the shows. You can vote now over at the band’s website. No matter what songs are picked, expect John Doe, Exene Cervenka, DJ Bonebrake, and Billy Zoom to rock the Bijou Theatre like few before them have. I’ve only seen X perform as their cow-punk alter ego band, The Knitters (with Dave Alvin). Even that left my jaw dropped and my ears ringing.

On a more sombre X-related note… Exene Cervenka announced last week that she has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. You can read a statement from Exene on the band’s site. Ironically, the band’s current tour is in support of an organization called Sweet Relief… a charity started by folk singer Victoria Williams in 1992 when she was diagnosed with MS. The organization helps uninsured musicians with their medical bills.

***I’ll close today with a couple of tracks that I’ve been sitting on for a bit, and just haven’t had time to get to here. I get a lot of new music sent to me, and sometimes it takes a while to work through it all. Today… because I’m in a bit of a country-rock mood… I’d like to dust off and share a couple of albums that I’ve actually been sitting on since last year. First we’ll go north of the border to Canada for some COUNTRY-rock, and then south to Texas for some country-ROCK.

The John Henrys hail from Ottawa and wear their Gram Parsons influence on their sleeves. Their album, Sweet as the Grain, is peppered with songs like “Angel” that feature crying steels and trembling organs to frame a lazy country groove that goes a long way toward recreating Parsons’ vision of Cosmic American (Canadian?) Music.

On the other side of the spectrum (and the Continent) lies Back Porch Mary. A rocking outfit from Austin, TX that makes me wonder if the Braun Brothers from Reckless Kelly and Micky & the Motorcars might have a few more siblings loose in the Lone Star State. “This Band” showcases their hard driving style while painting an accurate picture of what it’s like to choose a life devoted to music.

The John Henrys: Angel (Buy Album)
Back Porch Mary: This Band (Buy Album)